Cowgirl boots, hometown roots: Family medicine practitioner embraces ranching lifestyle while serving her community
Lusk – Born and raised north of Harrison, Neb. on her family’s cow/calf ranch, Dr. Joleen Falkenburg has always known she wanted to practice family medicine.
Growing up, she attended high school in Edgemont, S.D. and went to Creighton University for her post-secondary education. She later received her doctor of medicine from the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine.
Joleen’s passion for medicine blossomed into helping people, but started with caring for animals.
“My dad would do a lot of caesarean sections on cows at the ranch, because when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to get a veterinarian out,” Joleen says. “Getting to be my dad’s surgical assistant through calving and other complications during ranching encouraged me the most.”
Joleen spent a lot of time in the fields with her dad caring for livestock, but her parents always supported a post-secondary education because ranching was something she could always fall back on, she shares.
Practicing medicine and ranching has been a family affair for Joleen and both of her sisters.
“During my last year of high school, I was able to visit my older sister in Tennessee where she was practicing medicine, and this was probably another big push for me to continue on through this path,” she explains.
Joleen takes pride in her hometown roots. After completing her three-year residency in family medicine at the Rapid City Regional Hospital, she found herself on a ranch near home.
“My husband and I started ranching on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with his family after my residency, and we were looking for our own place,” she shares. “My cousin owned some land south of my dad’s, and we were fortunate to buy the ranch from him.”
Prior to her current position, Joleen spent many hours on the road traveling back and forth to Custer, S.D. for work, and when her children hit school age, practicing in Lusk only made sense.
One day, she called the chief executive officer at the Niobrara Community Hospital and inquired about a position, and she has been there ever since.
“They thought I had kind of fallen out of the sky because they had been looking for a permanent position for a longtime,” she jokingly shares.
Joleen was happy to make it back home to a community she loved dearly.
Niobrara Community Hospital
Joleen has been practicing family medicine for 19 years, with eight of those years serving the community in Lusk, she shares.
When asked about what she enjoys most about her career, she says, “I’m really fortunate to live and work in this community because people are very appreciative of me being here, but they also tend to really come in when there is really a need.”
“You’re not going to find a lot of people who walk in and don’t truly have something wrong with them,” she continues.
Ranching and agriculture make up a large sector of the Niobrara County community, and when patients come in for care, it’s probably serious, Joleen shares.
“I appreciate the very genuine, down-to-earth type of people, and in return, we grew up in the same area, so we usually have something in common,” she explains. “In Wyoming, we know how to take care of each other, and it’s a good, working relationship.”
“I’m very thankful I took the pathway I did to become a physician, and it’s really rewarding to go out into this community and take care of patients,” Joleen says. “This population in particular is very grateful, and it’s been very rewarding for me to have ranching, healthcare and my family all be a part of my life.”
Outside of practicing medicine, Joleen spends time with her husband Bryan and their three children: 15-year-old daughter Blaise, 13-year-old son Brody and 10-year-old son Baxter.
“My husband has always ranched and is very much the epitome of a cowboy,” she shares. “He’ll do everything horseback no matter the weather outside.”
Together, the family raises a spring-calving Black Angus cow/calf herd. Joleen praises her husband for all the work and effort he has contributed towards their ranch and raising their chil- dren while she works.
“My husband is very good at multitasking and making this all work for our family,” she says, noting their children enjoy riding and working on the ranch along side their dad.
“My kids all rope and my daughter has trained all of her own barrel racing horses and competes in high school rodeo in Nebraska,” Joleen shares. “We go down the road quite a bit to some competitions, but I let her do the competing part.”
Growing up, Joleen thought it would fun to be a barrel racer, but found herself putting up a lot of hay with her dad and didn’t have time to rodeo. She enjoys getting to watch her children do something they love.
“I can do a lot of sorting with cattle and do all of those things on a ranch that need to get done, but you probably won’t find me signed up for a roping; and if so, I’m probably not going to be a very good partner,” she jokes.
Meaning of ranching
When asked about what ranching means to her, Joleen shares what it means to her to leave a legacy for her children through being a caring steward.
“Ranching has a lot to do with our heritage and the fact that we really want to sustain our western heritage and our way of life, because it is the best way to raise our children,” she explains.
Ranching is the best way to teach children how to be self-sustaining, and it teaches skills in caring for yourself and raising your own food, Joleen says.
“The most important thing to me more than anything, is to leave a legacy behind of productive children who can leave the world a better place, and I think ranching certainly does that,” she says.
Words of wisdom
Ranching and medicine has provided Joleen opportunities to learn life lessons and leave a legacy of knowledge.
“I think if you get up in the morning and have a good work ethic it will serve you
in whatever you do,” she says. “My kids love the ranch and riding their horses, but if the world changes and they aren’t able to continue that path, they’re still going to have a good work ethic to get a job or be accomplished and productive in other avenues.”
“Wake up in the morning, be ready to go, have a good work ethic and do what’s right by yourself and others, and you can’t go wrong,” she concludes. “If you want to go down the road and be suc- cessful, you’re going to have to do some of the hard work on your own.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr. net.